Innocent victims of terror have been asked to acquiesce in the inversion of right and wrong by churchmen, politicians and the UK government, a church minister told the Ulster Unionist conference.
In one of the highlights of the annual event on Saturday, the Rev Alan Irwin was given a keynote slot by the only one of the five main parties to oppose the Stormont House legacy structures.
Rev Irwin told the gathering at the Armagh City Hotel about the IRA murder of his uncle Fred in Dungannon in 1979 and then of his father Thomas Irwin near Omagh in 1986: “In neither of those murders are we aware of the truth or justice or have there been any convictions.”
Rev Irwin, who got a rapturous reception, said of the legacy consultation that “the clue is in the title of the consultative document, Northern Ireland past”.
He added: “To the outsider or those not familiar with the years of terrorism that wreaked havoc on these islands might rightly ask the question, what past? As it inadvertently or deliberately excludes the word terrorism from it and indeed within the proposals as a whole.”
His comments came in a legacy debate in which the UUP MLAs Steve Aiken and Doug Beattie were bitterly critical of the DUP’s role in legacy, and cited the DUP MPs Emma Little-Pengelly and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as architects of the legacy plans.
Rev Irwin said: “We are told there are no easy answers,” he said, yet there was “a peace process without an admission of guilt, individually and corporately, with no genuine repentance nor restitution for one’s actions”.
He added: “And then the failure to ensure that all participants entering politics, at local assembly and parliament, sign up to peaceful means, to denounce terrorism, past, present and future as unjustifiable.”
Rev Irwin added: “What saddens me most is that church leaders were involved in the betrayal of the innocent. They are meant to stand up for the persecuted”.
They will, he said, “tell you they did it in the interests of peace” but if you “sacrifice truth and justice on the altar of peace you have no peace”.
Most immoral of all, he said, the UK had accepted a definition of a victim “that is inferior to the definition of the United Nations, the European Union, even the Irish Republic”.
He said there was a “challenge not just for unionists but the Alliance and the SDLP, take responsibility, grasp the high moral ground, have the political courage and stop talking about it and change it for the innocent”.
He said the authorities seek to “manipulate or prey on people’s fears and vulnerabilities, under the heading, all parties have agreed ... however as we have seen that even that policy is beginning to unravel as parties distance themselves from these current proposals”.
Rev Irwin said that his family had “been the proverbial football, tossed between the HET, the PSNI and the policing board” before “a family report of sorts was eventually issued”.
“It now means that under the current proposals my family as many others will not have access to Historical Investigations Unit (HIU) unless new evidence emerges.”
“I don’t see how the claims that these proposals are balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable are really met.”
Sinn Fein’s opposition to the PSNI carrying out such investigations meant that “appeasement then leads to a parallel HIU to carry out those investigations that should have been carried out in accordance with due process”.
He added: “The director of the HIU has too much autonomy in taking decisions in relation to whether investigations actually take place.” Rev Irwin was scathing about other proposed legacy structures, and said: “The implementation and reconciliation group is not victim centred, a political class with their own ideological agenda will have control over it, and that is a major cause for concern.”
He said it was “extremely puzzling [how] the United Kingdom government that had defeated terrorism would then placate those same terrorists”.
“But then we have the early release of prisoners, unrepentant terrorists in government, the on the run letters, the royal perogatives of mercy, the destruction of forensic and ballistic evidence, and the immoral definition of a victim, need I say more.”
He said however that there was coming justice from God, “and woe to those who have declared evil good and good evil, the guilty innocent and innocent guilty, for you too will find your place with the murderers and the unrepentant”.
• We hope to publish Rev Irwin’s talk in full later this week